Colorado 2018

Summer went by way too quickly for all of us, and that brought the routine of School for Danielle, and constant pre-winter projects for us.  We were getting tired of being cooped up, especially considering that here in Wisconsin, 2018 was a record year for a miserable fall weather.  We had the fewest number of good weather days in 39 years according to the local weather folks.  Danielle finally got a 4 day weekend at the end of October, and we wanted desperately to get out of town so we could enjoy it.  The only issue was...the weather.

Our area was within an area that was destined to get steady rain and grey for the entire weekend, while only 100 miles west, it was going to be clearing out.  Temps were going to be in the 30's and 40's, but we lucked out in that the freezing level was going to be over 3000' MSL.  This gave us the good chance of being able to get out of town, even if it meant going IFR.

There was also one other bit of coolness to add to the weekend and that was the fact that we didn't have anyone set up to watch the dog, so we were planning to bring him with us.  It would be his first trip of any real distance.  We prepared the plane by adding the seat filler panel to give him a place to sprawl, and we loaded our luggage.  No pre-plans were made, as was just wait for departure day, pick a destination based on weather, and head out!

Danielle's trip video

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We settled on Colorado for a couple reasons.  First, our alternate was Arkansas, and that wasn't going to be as perfectly clear and sunny for the weekend. But the biggest reason was that we just love the mountains.  Colorado was also forecast to have very light winds, temps in the 70's, and basically perfect conditions for the entire time of our trip.

After loading up the plane, and seeing the grey skies, with lower ceilings about 100 miles West, we decided to depart VFR anyway and see how it goes.  We were able to fly at 4500' for a good amount of time, and then started to get pushed a little lower as we entered central Minnesota.  Airports ahead of us were showing lower ceilings in some cases, as low as 800-900' at some airports, so I wasn't very confident that we were going to make it in one stretch.  Danielle was doing the flying, and she was doing a great job, but as the ceiling lowered and the temperatures were proving to be OK, we decided to bail out, backtrack 15 miles and top off with fuel, and then depart IFR from there.  For me, if you plan the trip VFR, you can play with the fuel stops a bit.  Just stop a little short of your destination and top off wherever you want.  But once you're going to file IFR, it's nice to just have full fuel and climb up and stay there for the duration.  Topping off at Mankato would give us all the fuel we'd need for a non-stop flight to Denver.

I filed an IFR plan, and Danielle did all the flying.  What better way to get her some actual instrument experience.  In no time we were up and in the clouds, solid IMC, cruising towards our destination.  We knew that after a while it was going to go completely clear. The Satellite picture showed that.  Sure enough, we first ended up between layers, then over a broken layer, then scattered, and then completely clear!
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As we cruised the clear skies (at our altitude), you can see in the first pic below that we found the only cloud for tens of miles to run right through.  Being on an IFR plan, it legal, so we altered course about 1 degree to guarantee we'd blast through the middle.

Although I didn't make any real plans ahead of time, I did call Boulder Metro's Signature Flight Service and told them I'd be coming and that I'd need a car.  I didn't discuss much with them, but they said they'd line something up.  If you have a car, you're going to be fine, in a city of that size.  Upon arrival I was amazed that everything was going to be even better than I had planned.  The weather was perfect, the car was parked right behind the airplane, and it didn't take much time at all and we were driving around Denver. 

I downloaded the "Bring Fido" app for iPhone, and used that a lot to find various restaurants and hotels where we could bring the dog.  In the pictures just below, you can see we found a place to eat.  It was a very unique place called Forest Room 5, with a mix of indoor and outdoor seating.  Outdoors, in the area between buildings, was a rock and tree garden complete with gas power fireplaces scattered all around where you could sit around a campfire.  There was also a row of tables you could sit at.  They would bring you a dog bowl, and you could enjoy eating right there by the fire with your pet.

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After dinner, it was time to find a hotel, and again the Bring Fido app was a big help.  We wanted to stay out of the downtown area, so that we would have a shorter drive for any sightseeing we'd do.  We weren't sure if we'd stay just one night, and drive around the area staying in other hotels, or if we'd return every day.  The Sheraton Denver West in Lakewood turned out to be a great place for us. The rooms were nice, and the beds comfortable.  We liked the place so much we decided to just stay there the whole weekend.

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Our car was a bit unique, for a rental.  Something I'd never driven before.   It was a Volvo.  At first I thought it may be a diesel, the engine seemed to make a lot of racket.  Turns out it was just a gas engine.  It had I think 6 or more gears, and was an automatic.  It had the auto-shutoff of the engine when you came up to red stoplights.  The car had so many wacko quirks I was torn between really liking it and absolutely hating it.  There are many many things that they could do better on that car.  At the same time, it was very comfortable and there were many nice things about it.  The entertainment and control system could use a lot of work, however.  It did reinforce one other thing for me too....and that's that I'd really REALLY prefer to never buy a gas powered car again, unless it's an electric drive.  Once you drive electric, you won't want to settle for those rough shift points and all that noise anymore.  The engine shutoff at stoplights got annoying real fast, especially in traffic jams, so I had to shut it off at times.  Volvo did many things to try to make it more efficient, but we still averaged only about 28-29mpg in that environment, whereas electric would just provide the power you need, and stop delivering power at stoplights.
Anyway, we had a funny horrible mess of a story that I'll never forget, driving at night trying to hear the hotel registration person on the phone over the faint USB connection, while the climate controls got bumped to max fan and we couldn't figure out how to turn it off, while at the same time the windshield wipers got bumped in the commotion and in the darkness we couldn't figure out how to turn them off either.  It was really a mess for a few minutes. :)

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The second day of the trip, we decided to just start driving West to Vail and take in sights along the way in both directions.  We took some side roads to see some overlooks, a frozen lake, and just take in the outdoors.  Vail itself was very nice.  You could see that they actually had some snow and snow making going on at the top of the mountain, but it was very nice weather down in the village.

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On the way back from Vail we decided to take in Loveland Pass and drive the whole loop.  I hadn't been there since I was Danielle's age, so it was great to check out the whole area.  We drove past Arapaho Basin, and first couple of places I'd skied in Colorado.  The dog loved being out in the snow, as that was really his first real experience with any amount of snow.  There was an extreme range of temperatures as you reached 11-12,000', and we were really glad we had our winter jackets along.  A couple of rows below you can see a picture of the car's sunroof. It was the perfect car for sightseeing in the mountains as you could look up through the entire roof of the car and see the sights above you.

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After we got back into town, we wanted to pick a place to eat with the dog.  We almost went to Noodles and Co. but saved that for another night in Boulder.  We'd never done room service before (and still haven't) but with the dog it sounded appealing.  So we tried something new.  As it turns out, you can order Olive Garden takeout via the web, and simply arrive at their parking lot in a specified spot at the specified time, and they'll bring your food right to the car.  That sounded PERFECT to us, so we stopped to buy some drinks at the local 7/11 and got our Olive Garden food and headed back to the hotel.  It turned out to be exactly what we needed!

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The second day in the Denver area, we decided to tour Rocky Mountain National Park.  We purchased our Annual Park pass (something we usually do even if we don't plan to visit multiple times, simply because we love to support the national park system), and headed in.  The only real disappointment was that one of the more scenic drives was already closed for the season, but we entered the park from the Boulder area, and filled the entire day with driving, hiking, and general sightseeing.   We even saw a huge herd of Elk down in one of the meadows, and sat that for a good long time while it made its way across the clearing.

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On the way back into town for the night, we ended up seeing the signs for the Lookout Mountain drive, a completely spectacular view on a clear night.  The road winds around and climbs high above the city on a mountainside, and gives awe-inspiring views.  There are places to park where I'd have probably spent a lot of nights in my youth bringing girls, if I'd have grown up there.

The following day was departure day for us. The weather was going to be good all day, but turn bad the next day.  Looking ahead at home, it appeared that we'd have good weather all the way up until the last 20 minutes of our flight...nearly the same line where the bad weather was on the way out.  It confirmed that we did the right thing by leaving home that weekend.  Andrea did the flying and we headed Eat.  I got to play with the ADS-B on the NGT-9000 and check out all the cool screens for viewing Airmets and sigmets. It's really a spectacular box.  If you haven't yet equipped, just save yourself the headache and get the Lynx L3 NGT9000. You won't regret it.

We got to fly through a little rain in the final 15-20 minutes of the flight, and got pushed down to a couple thousand feet, but the flying was uneventful and the ladies did a fantastic job.  It made me very happy that I raised them right. :)

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